At Ware State Prison, a brutal beating and a wait for hospital care

Cleveland Dunn was a mess when he reported to the infirmary at Ware State Prison. He had been attacked from behind by a fellow inmate, and the weapon -- a wooden mop handle -- had left its mark.

“Both eyes swollen … lips swollen, broke eyeglasses, blood-soaked clothes and cheeks swollen," the nurse on duty wrote after examining Dunn.

It was definitely bad, but apparently not bad enough for anyone to think Dunn needed to go to a hospital or even be seen by the prison doctor. Instead, he was given ice for the swelling and Ibuprofen for the pain. Then he was dispatched to the prison’s isolation/segregation unit, where he would spend the next 11 days.

Credit: Lois Norder

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Credit: Lois Norder

The episode is the crux of an ongoing lawsuit in which Dunn, a former Atlanta restaurant cook serving a life sentence for murder, seeks unspecified damages for deliberate indifference to his medical needs.

According his lawsuit, it was 17 days before Dunn was taken to Augusta State Medical Prison for X-rays and a CT scan. It was another 21 days before the extent of his injuries -- multiple facial fractures -- was made known. And it was six days after that before he was examined by a specialist.

During a deposition in October, Dunn was asked by Deborah Nolan Gore of the state attorney general’s office to describe the pain in his jaw.

“My jaws are broken and improperly healed in two places, and the bone structure is constantly rubbing together, and it causes a lot of pain,” he replied. “That’s why I don’t talk so loud.”

Dunn's attorney, Tamika Hrobowski-Houston, said it has yet to be determined what, if anything, can be done to treat her client's condition, but that's not the point. The question, she said, is why was Dunn stuck in the iso/seg unit without checking for a concussion or the other serious conditions that can arise from such a beating?

Credit: Lois Norder

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Credit: Lois Norder

"Whether or not the worst came to pass isn't the issue," Hrobowski-Houston said. "I don't know if you could be more indifferent to a situation when you see somebody with blood-soaked clothing and you say, `OK, fine, go away.'"

Dunn, 45, has been in the prison system since pleading guilty in the 1996 shooting death of a man at an Austell apartment complex. As part of his plea, charges of burglary and false imprisonment were dropped. Since entering prison, Dunn has experienced a myriad of health problems, including a stroke in 2001 that led to the discovery that he suffers from hydrocephalus, a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain.

According to Dunn, he was attacked by his cellmate in September 2011 while watching television in a common area at Ware, located in Waycross. Dunn said he had angered the cellmate by trying to convince him not to join a gang.

Shortly after the attack, Dunn testified, he was seen in the infirmary by Barbara Moore, a licensed practical nurse. He said Moore seemed more concerned about the details of the incident than the nature of his injuries and was miffed when he was unable to provide immediate answers as to what had occurred.

“She said, `What happened to you?’” he testified. “I said, `Ma’am, I don’t know.’ And she exploded, `I’m so tired of this snitching (crap). … How could you not know what happened to you?' I said, `Ma’am, I was hit from behind.’ She says, `I guess you just fell out (of) the shower.’ And I got angry, and I said, `Ma’am, my face is sunk in, I’m bleeding everywhere, I need to go to the damn hospital.’”

Dunn said Moore told him to apply for “sick call” if he felt like he needed more medical attention.

Dunn's lawsuit, filed in December 2013, initially included the Georgia Department of Corrections and Georgia Correctional Health Care, the branch of Augusta University that provides medical services for the DOC, as defendants. However, both were dismissed from the suit in a ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge James E. Graham in March 2014.

Graham ruled that the DOC, as a state agency, is immune from being sued. He said Georgia Correctional Health Care cannot be sued in this case because none of its officials personally supervised Dunn's treatment.

That leaves Moore, another nurse at the prison and the former warden, Darrell Hart, as remaining defendants.

Answering Dunn’s claims regarding those defendants in a court filing last March, Gore asserted that none of the three acted with the deliberate indifference necessary to violate the inmate’s rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The filing also noted that Moore suffered a brain injury in August 2013 and, as a result, hadn't been able to aid in her defense. The LPN remains incapacitated and cannot provide any insight into what was her thinking when she treated Dunn, Hrobowski-Houston said.

At the end of his deposition in October, Dunn was asked by Gore if there was anything else he thought needed to be said.

“Nothing except the fact that nothing has been done,” he replied. “I could have died in that cell and nobody (would) have cared.”